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Environment and security

The overexploitation of resources over the years due to conflict has contributed to environmental degradation and human insecurity, directly and indirectly. For example, both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia have attracted international attention as areas where greed for diamonds not only fuelled armed conflict but also environmental degradation. Environmental management institutions in Africa have generally been weakened as a result of armed conflict, and so were enforcement regimes; forests and other resources suffered (UNEP 2002). The issue of post-conflict assessment in Africa has recently attracted attention with UNEP initially focusing on Liberia.

More post-conflict assessments are expected in other African countries in which conflict was a major issue

Conflicts have increased the numbers of refugees and internally-displaced people. In 2003, the overall number of displaced people in Africa was 15 million (Wilkinson 2003), 3 343 700 of them refugees living in countries other than their own (UNHCR 2003) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Africa’s uprooted people: The toll of conflict

Source: Adapted from UNHCR 2003


Key Facts

  • Africa has the highest rate of urbanization in the world. The urban population is projected to reach 42.7 per cent by 2010. Despite this, the majority of the people in Africa still live in rural areas – about 498.4 million in 2000 compared to 295.2 million in urban areas.
  • The number of people living in absolute poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to rise from 315 million to 404 million over the next 15 years, making the continent the world’s poorest region.
  • Africa is the source of about a third of the world’s biodiversity. In 2003, Africa had more than 1 200 national parks, wildlife reserves, and other protected areas, representing an area of more than two million km2, nine per cent of the region’s total land area or more than 21 times the size of Malawi.
  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa is seriously affecting conservation success in the region. For example, it is reducing staff in protected areas.
  • About 180 million people in Africa – pastoralists, farmers and other land users – live on fragile drylands where growing numbers compete for water and land.
  • In Africa, more than 20 per cent of the population’s protein comes from freshwater fisheries.
Sources: UN-Habitat 2003, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2003b, World Bank 2003a

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledges that the unexpected arrival of large numbers of refugees, as well as lengthy stays in asylum countries, can have a significant environmental impact, including exploitation of protected areas.

UNHCR launched activities to generate awareness among displaced people of the value of water in 2003, the International Year of Freshwater. These were linked to planting trees, cleaning up camps and raising awareness among refugees in Africa about the need to protect and improve the physical environment (UN 2003). The Refugee and Returnee Environmental Education Programme, which was started in 1995 in refugee camps in Kenya, has since been expanded to Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia

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